Market in telephone cards has gone from boom to bust

From: Joe Armstrong

From: Joe Armstrong

Hi Paul, Mr Tony Power from Telecom Eireann is sending pictures to you Thursday morning, 25th March - or if we're lucky some freebie callcards. If there are any problems, he can be contacted on 087-2218100. See you, Joe.

What some people fear might happen to the property market has already happened to that albeit more disposable commodity, the telephone card; a market which has gone from boom to bust in the last three years.

More than Over 60 per cent of Telecom Eireann's 8,000 payphones are now card operated and, according to the company, the CallCard Collectors' Club has in excess of 18,000 members. Telecom Eireann reminds potential advertisers that CallCards have been described as "pocket billboards" with many "top brands" such as Kit Kat, Guinness, Tina Turner and Boyzone having their image on the card. Telecom says 62 per cent of people who use the cards are aged between 16 and 34.


But if advertisers can make money from the cards, can collectors?

Mr Ian Whyte of Whyte's auctioneers in Marlborough Street, Dublin, says: "About three years ago the collecting boom started in telephone cards and prices suddenly started taking off."

A trial telephone card was issued for the Irish Management Institute conference in Killarney in 1989, he says. "It was given away free to IMI delegates," each receiving a 20 unit and a 50 unit card. At the boom period three years ago, "the two of those cards were fetching in excess of £1,000 [for the pair]. I think the record we got was £1,300".

But at a recent Whyte's auction, a 1989 Limerick Trial IMI "Ireland's Europe" 20 units with a few slight scratches but in "fine mint" condition sold for £220. Mr Whyte believes the same card would have fetched between £350 and £400 three years ago, while a 50 unit card would have gone for "anywhere between £700 and £900".

Many people were buying cards purely for investment. "People saw the prices were going up and they started buying them. And they really weren't that interested in collecting them per se," he says.

A lot of people who sold collections of telephone cards issued over the last three to five years were not even getting their money back out of them. "They're selling at 60 to 70 per cent of face value. And that's a bad sign," he says.

He believes that unless collectors own cards issued before 1991, the chances are that they may not be of "any great collector value", although there are a few subsequent limited editions which could be valuable. "But the vast majority of the cards issued since 1991, you're not going to get even the face value back for them. And that's the sad thing about them," Mr Whyte says.

However, collecting telephone cards is still popular, especially with children, and the forthcoming CallCards Collectors' Fair should be of interest. Telecom Eireann and the Irish Brain Research Foundation are hosting the fair, with all proceeds going to the foundation.

There will be a limited edition transparent CallCard only available at the fair, the first produced for Irish collectors. Each visitor will get a ticket which will entitle them to buy one.

An auction at the fair will include some of the first Test Cards, National Management Conference, Eagle Star and Eurobase cards, with all proceeds going to the Irish Brain Research Foundation.

The CallCard Collectors' Club has launched Squirrel, a newsletter, which will be available at least three times a year. It will include an up-to-date listing of all recent releases and special limited edition CallCards only available to members.

The CallCards Collectors' Fair takes place at the RDS Lecture Hall, Dublin, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 24th. Entrance fee is £2 per adult, £1 per child under 12. For further information contact the CallCard Collectors' Club on 1850 337 337 or +353 1 701 0208 from outside the Republic.